By Sue Bryant
Today, September signifies the end of summer and the approach of autumn, children returning to school and families getting back to a normal routine.
It wasn’t long ago that September represented more than that. In years past, September meant excitement; Cloverdale’s Fall Fair was around the corner.
The first Fall Fair was held at the Municipal Hall and fairgrounds in Surrey Centre on Friday, September 28, 1888, hosted by the District of Surrey Agricultural Association. Surrey had incorporated as a municipality less than a decade before and the Fall Fair provided a great opportunity for the community to get together and share their talents and have friendly contests with their neighbours in agricultural competitions, handicrafts and other homemade products.
At the time of the first fair, Surrey Centre was the “capital” of Surrey. It was truly the centre of Surrey in every respect; the Municipal Hall, the church and the school, as well as social halls, were all located in the district. The pioneers of that time could never have envisioned the changes that would take place in their little hamlet, which would become the thriving metropolis of more than 500,000 people we live in today.
The Fall Fair represented the best the community offered, and it was attended by one and all. The local schoolchildren would return to school a week before Labour Day, then prepare to compete against their fellow classmates in other wards. On the third Wednesday of September, the mayor proclaimed a public holiday so that all could attend and participate. Admission prices were $0.50 for adults and $0.25 for children.
The day would begin with a stock parade down McLellan Road, in which participants brought their best livestock up to the fairgrounds. The midway would be set up with games of chance such as the card game “Housie Housie” and “Coco-nut Shies.”
Entrants would compete to be recognized as the best in categories including livestock, poultry, garden and field produce, honey, canning, baking, fruit and flowers, dairy produce and needlework, to name a few. Even the local doctor, Dr. Fred D. Sinclair, was an avid competitor and won the award several years in a row for the best Johnson apples in the district.
The schoolchildren from the district’s one and two-room schoolhouses such as Surrey Centre, Strawberry Hill, Hall’s Prairie and Colebrook would vie for prizes in track and field, dog obedience, paper folding, drawing in pencil and in colour, writing and best scrapbook.
In 1934, the fair became large enough that a telephone would be installed on the fairgrounds for the exclusive use of Fair business, which was noteworthy enough to warrant an announcement in the Surrey Leader. The number for the fairgrounds was simply “Cloverdale 128.”
“There wasn’t even a ferris wheel,” Anna Bose Heppell recalled in an 1989 interview about the early days of the Fall Fair.
“They used to have little races for everybody; really had to run and somebody could outdo the other one, you know. But that was about as far as that went,” she said. “And they used to have baby shows, too and they’d give away mugs and everything for really for the fattest baby or the prettiest baby.”
By 1936, the Fall Fair boasted a record attendance of more than 3,000 people, including the large number of schoolchildren there to show off their best school project. Special events included Highland Dance competitions, horseshoe pitching, and the tug-of-war between Surrey and Langley. The tug-of-war was always one of the main attractions, given the friendly rivalry between the two towns.
In 1938, the Municipal Hall was moved from its Surrey Centre location near the cemetery to the Cloverdale Fairgrounds. Some residents can still recall looking out the window from their Surrey Centre school and watching the Municipal Hall being loaded onto trucks to be taken down to the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.
- RELATED: Remember Cloverdale’s first rodeo
The fair moved with the hall, and the annual Fall Fair continued on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds. But times were changing. The community event was no longer a public holiday in Surrey, and, over time, the fair became larger and more commercialized, due in part to the city’s increasing population and the larger venue.
In 1996, the fall fair was incorporated into rodeo weekend, which takes place in May, ending the 109-year-old “fall” fair in some respects.
For some, however, the fall fair lives on in the annual Olde Harvest Fair held at the Historic Stewart Farm each September, which combines traditional fair activities with the new, all the while preserving the festival’s original intention: uniting Surrey residents to mark the autumn season with food, music and neighbourly competitions.
Sue Bryant is an oral historian and a member of the Surrey Historical Society. She is also a digital photo restoration artist, genealogist and volunteers at the Surrey Museum and Surrey Archives. She writes monthly for the Reporter.